St. Anthony OKs preliminary plans for lux apartments at vacant Walmart site


The former St. Anthony Walmart has sat vacant for over five years, and is now on its way to being developed into a 464-unit luxury apartment complex aimed at older renters looking to downsize. Following a preliminary approval by the St. Anthony City Council, the developer hopes to get a final sign-off and break ground later this fall. (file photo)

The developer, Doran Companies, has proposed constructing two separate apartment buildings, which will be completed in phases over the next three to four years. Each half will host a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with rents ranging from $1,200 to $3,500. (photos courtesy of Doran Companies)

As seen from the northeast, the building will be connected to current trails through neighboring Salo Park. Though the park will remain on private land, it will continue to be open for public use.

New luxury apartments on the site of the former St. Anthony Walmart are one step closer to fruition, following the St. Anthony City Council’s approval of a preliminary development application at its Sept. 10 meeting.

Doran Companies first presented its 464-unit concept to the city at a joint review by the city council and St. Anthony Planning Commission in April. Following preliminary approval, the company will now put the finishing touches on its design and respond to city feedback before coming back before the council to present its final application.

Doran will then need to finalize a purchase agreement with the site’s current owner before breaking ground. While the developer declined to comment on the amount of the agreement, council member Randy Stille mentioned at the meeting that the assessed value of the site is almost $10 million, having gone down significantly over the past few years.

As it stands, the proposed development at the 13-acre site will consist of two separate buildings, each roughly five stories, with an enclosed parking garage taking up the first level. Founder and principal Kelly Doran said the units are primarily intended for older homeowners looking to downsize. 

“We cater extensively to hopefully an empty-nester crowd. Not exclusively — anybody can live here,” he explained at the meeting.

While a number of residents have brought up concerns over the lack of affordability, the developer and city have expressed the hope that this new apartment stock will lead to a bigger market and more turnover of single-family homes.

Doran said he hopes to demolish the vacant Walmart building later this year and break ground on apartments in the spring. The developer is also planning to seek tax increment financing for the project, city subsidy, which will be discussed by city officials in the near future.

TIF is a type of financial assistance which allows any increase in property taxes generated by a redeveloped site to be captured for a number of years as reimbursement for upfront costs. The amount of financing Doran will be able to request is limited by the fact that the site is already an active TIF district left over from construction of the Silver Lake Village shopping center.

 

Parking questions, some resistance

Before its unanimous approval by the city council, the preliminary application went before the planning commission on Aug. 20, where it was met with slightly more resistance. The commission approved the plan 4-1, with a sixth commissioner abstaining from the vote.

Prior to the commission’s advisory recommendation, the main topic of discussion was parking. Both commissioners and Doran decided they would be comfortable sticking with the current ratio of 1.75 stalls per unit, or even reducing parking by around 50 spaces to allow for more landscaping.

The projected impervious lot coverage is currently at 75%, while 50% is typically the maximum allowed under traditional zoning. The site is already zoned as a planned unit development, a designation allowing for certain variances from the city code as approved by the council.

A member of the local grassroots group Citizens for Sustainability addressed the commission with questions on sustainability measures in the building. Doran said that utility consumption in other similar buildings built by his firm tended to be low due to insulation.

He noted that there would be conduits allowing for future solar panels on the roof, as well as electric vehicle charging stations at 20% of parking stalls.

In opposing approval of the preliminary application, planning commissioner Brian Rude said he was hesitant to convert the land from commercial to residential. “Having a vacant building there doesn’t really use up many city resources; having another 700 people or so there, does.”

While the site is still zoned commercial in the city’s comprehensive plan, City Planner Steve Grittman said that it had also been earmarked as a site for possible residential redevelopment.

Before abstaining from the vote, commissioner Bibi Neumann raised concerns about accessibility and the proposed complex’ focus on older renters.

“Maybe this is being built to retain a certain demographic in the city, I guess — and that’s why younger families and people who are going to the school are not there,” she said.

In catering toward empty-nesters, Doran estimated that rents would range from $1,200 for a studio apartment to $3,500 for a three-bedroom unit. The proposal also promises a number of amenities, from high-quality finishes in the units themselves to an outdoor pool, spa and putting green.

According to Doran, making a portion of the units affordable isn’t financially viable without additional financial assistance from the city, which is limited by the fact that the site is already an active TIF district.

 

Long-awaited redevelopment

While multiple residents at the sketch plan hearing said this new development does little to meet affordability goals set out in the city’s comprehensive plan, others were relieved to finally have something going in on the site.

“Do I wish there was some affordable aspect to it? Yes, I do,” said Dominic Papatola, chair of the planning commission. “But as one of the audience members said, I don’t think this is that project.”

One of the residents who addressed the commission said, “If this project doesn’t go through as planned and proposed by Doran, it’s possible that the site will remain vacant for many years to come and could result in many more vacancies of the surrounding properties.”

He added that the new apartments may help alleviate tax increases, and provide a type of housing the city currently doesn’t have much of. At the council meeting, Doran estimated that the site would generate $2 million in taxes annually once built.

Mayor Jerry Faust noted at the meeting that the site has “sat for five and a half years without any interest from [a commercial developer]. This is the first time we have a developer who’s willing to come in and do housing on it.”

 

– Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825

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